Saturday, July 05, 2003

Supreme Court Debate

Two excellent posts on this issue in the last few days: KiwiPundit lays out his position, and NZPols responds. As a non-lawyer who isn't ideologically wedded to either party in the republican debate, I'm really not fussed either way. What does piss me off however is the way National, ACT and others are using this debate to explicitly politicise the issue of judicial appointments. By saying "we can't have a Supreme Court because Labour would get to pick all the judges", they're undermining the very tradition (of a nonpolitical, independent judiciary) they claim to be protecting. It invites the public to view judges as political actors, and parties to respond to that view when appointing judges. Like ACT's views on gun control, this is another example of imported US politics we can do without.

(Of course, National, ACT etc could claim that they're exposing the dirty little secret behind our supposedly "nonpolitical" judiciary - but then I'd expect them to be presenting actual evidence of a real and systematic bias in appointments, rather than simply trying to smear the government with allegations that it might take place in the future.)

Regardless, I think NZPols has the knockdown counter for allegations of political bias. Those alleging bias are implicitly claiming that judges are political. But:

once it is accepted that judges are not simply impartial arbiters, but are in fact engaged in making 'political' decisions, it follows that those decisions should reflect the desires of the people that are affected by them, not those of judges sitting in another country. The judges appointed to our highest appellate court should be broadly acceptable to those across the poltical spectrum, but that political spectrum should be New Zealand's, not Britain's.

Hmmm. Turns out the chief argument against a local Supreme Court is actually an argument for it.